Other Cowboy Stars – Johnny Mack Brown in “Law Men”

September 9, 2008

As part of my ongoing efforts to familiarize myself with the other Cowboy Stars of Charles Starrett’s day, I watched the 1944 Johnny Mack Brown vehicle “Law Men”.

I know that Johnny Mack Bown’s hometown of Dothan, Alabama has an annual film festival dedicated to him. I’m also sure that there exists my counter-part in the world of Johnny Mack Brown fandom, who is equally puzzled by my myopic devotion to Charles Starrett.  However, admittedly having only seen one of his films, I don’t yet see the draw.

The two were friends, as evidenced by the auto accident they suffered together while on a duck hunting trip in 1944 (see blog entry “Auto Accident of ’44”)  And no wonder. They shared a lot in common.  They both made nearly 170 films, with the second half of their careers dominated by Western roles.   They were both football players in college (though Johnny was a much bigger star on the field than Charley ever was.)  They both appear to have been family men.

Johnny Mack Brown even has his own Smiley, Raymond Hatton.  They did fifty-one films together.

The similarities end there.  JMB is stocky with a heavy face.  In this, he wears dusty, lived-in looking clothes.  He is very deliberate in his movement and diction; he moves and speaks like you would expect a big man to move and speak.

“Law Men” features a lot of quick draws, but very little riding, and no fist-a-cuffs at all.  Familiar plot: the banker who is secretly running the gang of bank robbers so he can foreclose on all the cattle owners.   The director, Lambert Hillyer, even directed six of Charley’s films, including the 1940 “Durango Kid.”

This Monarch film has a lower budget, and is slower paced, than Charley’s films of this time.  There are some real cruddy actors in a few of the supportive roles — late with lines, flat readings.

Raymond Hatton’s clowning is pretty subdued and, compared to Smiley, low-key.  He’s also pretty smart and tough.  In “Law Men”, I would say that he got more screen time than top-billed Johnny Mack Brown.

I’m sure I’ll revisit some of Johnny Mack Brown’s other films.  Any suggestions?


4 Responses to “Other Cowboy Stars – Johnny Mack Brown in “Law Men””

  1. Peter Valenti said

    I had the same impression of Brown, even when I was a kid seeing them on TV and wondering how that old slow-talking fat guy ever got his own series–maybe it was his name, which sounds so promising, or his early image–I have not seen the 1930 Billy the Kid, but his youthful image in stills suggests that he should have been a natural for a wesern hero role. Interesting how some older guys who demonstrated themselves as competent (and probably dependable workers, too) were allowed to keep making movies well into the 1940s even when more promising young guys like Jock Mahoney and Jim Bannon could have moved into starring roles more easily. I think the promotion machine was slow and clanky, reluctant to move away from names already familiar to the public.

  2. bob tomko said

    Johnny was by far a much better western star than Charles. He was the complete star. Could fight, ride & was a good actor. If you get a chance please view some of his universial films. They were much better than the monogram films. Had bigger budgets & were full of action. In all the books I read on all the western stars of long ago they agree the Johnny Mack was the best all around western star. One of Johnny’s best films is “Long Star Trail” It was one of his Universial films. Bob Tomko

  3. bob tomko said

    The name of the Universial film is Lone Star Trail. Bob Tomko

  4. Johnny Mack Brown’s Universal series and serials were probably his best work. In the mid-Forties, he co-starred with Tex Ritter to make eight pictures, all of which had plenty of action and music to entertain fans. By the time he got to Monogram, he was slowing down. However, since Monogram westerns played to many small town theaters across the country, usually billed with the Bowery Boys, JM Brown was able to continue his career for another eight years.

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